Should teachers be required to have five times more firearms training than law enforcement to carry in a school?

The Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy (OPOTA) says yes. Simple logic says no.

by Chad D. Baus

In the wake of the horrific attack on a Connecticut elementary school in December 2013, many Ohio boards of education finally realized that "no-guns" signs and zero-tolerance policies have utterly failed their promise to protect our children, and were ready to do something different. More than two dozen schools around the state have since elected to exercise their right to authorize employees to carry concealed firearms inside the school.

Ohio's state legislators also seemed ready to act to improve school security, introducing House Bill 8, a place-holder bill that, it was announced, would eventually be amended to contain language intended to enhance school safety. At the time it was introduced, the bill's sponsor, Rep. Kristina Roegner (R), was quoted as saying that "it's a priority for the House, not only in this state but I imagine across the nation, to make sure that our children are safe. So that's what this legislation will do."

Since the time it was introduced one year ago up until very recently, HB 8 has received very little attention. The reason? No one knew for sure what would be in the final version, since various proposals were being discussed and the final amended language had not been adopted. Furthermore, because the Ohio Legislative Service Commission only posts introduced and passed versions of legislation, the actual bill being discussed was not available via the normal online way.

Although HB 8 is not considered to be a gun rights bill in the sense that much of the other legislation we follow is, Buckeye Firearms Association is committed to ensuring that the legislature not make it harder for local boards of education to take the steps they believe they need to take to ensure the safety of their students. As such, at various times over the past year, public comments made by various legislators, public officials or interested parties have been cause for concern.

Last April, for example, the Gongwer News Service reported that the state Fraternal Order of Police was pushing to use the bill to strip the right of boards of education to arm staff to protect students altogether.

Then in June, even bill sponsor Rep. Roegner made comments to Ohio NPR's StateImpact that seemed to suggest she was hoping to make it tougher on local boards of education to make these decisions for themselves.

Despite these media reports, however, Buckeye Firearms Association chose to take a "wait and see" approach. Thankfully, the actual wording of the legislation was finally amended into the place-holder bill and passed by the Ohio House 63-29, and we were pleased to see that the bill did not restrict the local control that boards of education currently enjoy. (View HB 8 as passed by the House here.)

Indeed, there are several provisions in the bill that show it is intended to maintain, even enhance, local control.

The danger, however, has not passed. The bill must still be taken up by the Ohio Senate. And as recent coverage by The Dayton Daily News shows, pressure remains to restrict the ability boards of education currently enjoy to authorize persons to carry concealed in the school.

From the article:

A bill making its way through the Ohio legislature would expand who can carry a firearm on school grounds, the training required, exempt school districts from civil liability should an injury or death occur from someone designated to carry a gun and keep parents in the dark about who is in possession of a gun.

One of the bill's sponsors said it clarifies current Ohio laws and makes it tougher to carry a weapon on school property even for those designated to do so.

...Rep. Kristina Roegner, R-Hudson, a co-sponsor of the bill, said Ohio law already allows school districts to grant permission for anyone to carry a firearm on school property, but doesn't specify training requirements.

...House Bill 8 aims to develop clear guidelines for firearms on school grounds while allowing local districts to maintain control.

"What we're saying is let's be safe about it if you decide to arm an employee. Let's do it thoughtfully and be safe about it," Roegner said.

House Bill 8 would:

* Allow off-duty police officers to possess guns at schools;
* Allow school boards to designate employees who could carry weapons and exclude from collective bargaining how these employees are designated;
* Require the Ohio Attorney General to develop a firearms training curriculum for these employees;
* Provide immunity from civil liability to school districts and those they have designated to carry weapons should injury or death occur and protect the identity of the employee designated to carry the weapon.

As passed by the House, the bill says boards of education may, but would not be forced, to consult with local law enforcement about their plans, just as they may, but would not be forced, to utilize the model training curriculum the bill would require to attorney general to create.

And what of the model curriculum? Again, from the article:

Attorney General Mike DeWine agrees that decisions about who to arm at schools should be made by the local boards. Having a school resource officer, which is a trained police officer, is the best practice, DeWine said.

"I'm not saying they shouldn't do it (designate staff to carry), but it's a serious thing when a school does it," DeWine said.

DeWine said he started looking into firearms training recommendations after a local school district superintendent asked for advice.

DeWine said he asked the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy (OPOTA), which trains police officers, to develop recommendations for what training would be appropriate for school personnel.

"I think it's clear that they should have more than just 12 hours of carrying a concealed", DeWine said.

The preliminary recommendation is for about 200 hours of training before the AG's office would recommend someone be allowed to carry a concealed weapon on school property, DeWine said. He said the recommendations, which still must be approved by the Ohio Peace Officer Training Commission, could be enforced only if the H.B. 8 becomes law.

The OPOTA recommendations will be made public even if the bill fails, DeWine said.

The biggest concern is whether the person has enough training to react correctly in an active shooter situation, DeWine said.

"It's not just about can I shoot a gun. That's just a small part of it. It's: Do I have enough training to be able to react so that my training goes into effect and I don't end up shooting someone who's innocent," DeWine said.

It is disappointing to see that OPOTA seems to be joining the FOP in seeking to make it nearly impossible for boards of education to authorize people to protect students, and this is exactly why boards should not be forced to follow the curriculum, just as they should not be forced to develop a safety plan with local law enforcement - especially if the agency opposes civilian gun ownership.

There are several things to consider when weighing the OPOTA 200 hour proposal:

First, law enforcement officers receive nowhere near this level of training. A typical officer will receive 40 hours of firearms training, with much of it irrelevant to a school shooter scenario. Indeed, most officers only receive four hours or so of active killer training. And yet no one is questioning whether or not an officer has enough training to stop a threat inside a school. So why should teachers and faculty be asked to receive so much more training that the law enforcement officers that pretty much everyone agrees can be trusted in our schools? Before teachers be required to get 200 hours of firearms training, law enforcement officers should get 200 hours of firearms training.

Teachers and faculty who have been through Buckeye Firearms Foundation's Faculty/Administrator Safety Training and Emergency Response (FASTER) program have already received an almost identical amount of training as officers straight out of the academy - 12 hours of concealed handgun license instruction, and 27 hours in FASTER. But when it comes to active killer situations, FASTER participants receive a much greater level of task specific training than those fresh out of police academy.

Furthermore, FASTER is not some government-run, lowest common denominator class. It is advanced and moves quickly. Most importantly, as mentioned above, it is task specific. Dealing with an active killer is very different than dealing with a traffic stop or searching a field or warehouse looking for a criminal hiding from police - all things that are included in the 40 hours that academy cadets must be trained on. Indeed, it is the task-specific nature of the FASTER program that has led some school resource officers to request to take the FASTER training, because of what they hear from teachers. They know it's better training than they received as law enforcement officers!

We are reaching out to Attorney General DeWine's office to discuss these facts with him, and to invite him and members of his staff to attend one of Buckeye Firearms Foundation's upcoming FASTER program classes.

Quite obviously, Buckeye Firearms Association has concerns about any training requirement that is so high as to preclude schools from actually being able to participate. We remain committed to ensuring that the legislature not make it harder for local boards of education to take the steps they believe they need to take to ensure the safety of their students.

Chad D. Baus is the Buckeye Firearms Association Secretary, and BFA PAC Vice Chairman.

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